Category Archives: Camping

Patapsco Valley State Park: Hollofield Area

Ahhh, the first camping trip of the season. Three days of glorious weather and a few new gadgets to test out!

Patapsco Valley State Park has a number of camping areas that border the meandering river. We got around to booking so late this year (just like Spring Break) that we didn’t have that many options for camping within a couple hours’ drive of DC. We’d been to Patapsco before and were lucky to find several sites available in the Hollofield area three weeks out. Our campsite, #446, in the outer loop was  small but level. It was also nicely shaded, as were all the other sites in this loop, so there is no need to bring a canopy here as the site only receives a couple hours of unfiltered direct sunlight per day.

Bikeability is not so great because of the steep ascent from the main gate area into the camping area, which is about 3/4 mile away. That’s not a terribly long way to go but the little bears would never make it up the hill and who wants to put out that kind of effort just to go for a bike ride? The campground loop has much gentler hills and is 0.37 miles around.  Three quick spins around the loop and one’s National Bike Challenge points are logged for the day, if you’re obsessive about that sort of thing (ahem). Strap the bikes on the rack and head out of the park and one can drive to a number of places to find paths to bike on. We did so in prior years from the Hilton area, I think. This time, since 2 members of the family chose not to bring their bikes this wasn’t a viable option. Baby Bear did bring her bike and was having a blast buzzing around the campground loop until she blew her tire out irreparably. Unfortunately it happened the first full day here which left her looking longingly at the other little kids as they zoomed past our site.

We met another couple of families who were traveling together and had kids around the same age. Naturally this meant Sister Bear spent a lot of time in their campsite mooching their apparently superior food. I swear to God I brought enough food, snacks and treats for a week’s outing but SB loves Other People’s Food (OPF) like nothing else. And, it seems, Other People’s Company. I foresee the “what am I, chopped liver?” phase in my near future. My strategy to keep us together and her out of their cooler was to do things with the Other People. We had a lovely time down at the river near the campsite one day and then drove to a reservoir and splashed around for awhile the next day.

Baby Bear isn't sure she wants to do this

Baby Bear isn’t sure she wants to do this

Splashing in the Patapsco River

Splashing in the Patapsco River

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

Papa Bear as ferryman

Papa Bear as ferryman


Sister Bear successfully built her first campfire with minimal parental supervision, using the Vaseline-and-cotton-ball firestarters Baby Bear and I had assembled for the trip. To celebrate, Sister got her own Swiss Army knife. This one is a fairly basic model with a small serrated blade, toothpick, tweezers, corkscrew, bottle opener and reamer. I was about to teach her how to use the knife when she immediately sliced open the tip of her left index finger. Maybe Curious George is a better nickname for her. It bled for awhile, giving her time to rue her impulsiveness before I put her out of her misery with a butterfly bandage. Suitably humbled, she was a much better student after that. Once we went over the basic techniques she started whittling everything in site. A pocket knife is tailor made for a kid whose fingers never stop fiddling.

PB and I agreed: we’re definitely getting better at this outdoor cooking thing. I’d acquired a few new gadgets and was eager to test them out. One was a folding grill that stands 11″ off the ground. Perfect for grilling food over the fire. Yes, most fire pits have built in grills but, yuck. In addition to grilling all the meat and seafood I experimented with foil packet cooking. The mixed vegetable packets turned out pretty good but the potatoes were trickier to cook through without burning. Still, everything was edible this time, which is progress. Even Sister Bear would have liked the food if she hadn’t filled her belly with OPF.

I was absolutely delighted with our newest little camping gadgets. It’s amazing how happy a small investment in gear can make me. I recently acquired a rack that has hooks for utensils and a small basket for spices and sundries and hangs off the Coleman 2-burner stove . It’s so nice to have all that little stuff handy instead of rummaging around on the table for things.

Best $3 I've spent at REI.

Best $3 I’ve spent at REI.

I thought the girls would finally spend a night sleeping in their hammocks on his trip. The only one chance they had to use them before this was on our December camping trip near Sedona, Arizona where it was much too cold to sleep outside. Despite mild overnight temperatures and no rain in the forecast the little Bears had two false starts before deciding they weren’t quite ready for this particular adventure. Baby Bear owned up to feeling scared while big sis claimed she wanted to stay close to her sister out of sheer love. Such love was not readily apparent most of the other hours of the day when they were at each others’ throats but one allowed this fiction to stand unchallenged. Out of sheer love.




Camping with cicadas at Pohick Bay Regional Park

Bugs, bugs, bugs. It’s cicada season as Brood II emerges from its 17-year slumber for a few riotous weeks of raucous noise- and lovemaking. It’s hard to hate a creature with such a wacky life cycle. Best to do what Sister Bear did and embrace the red-eyed monsters.

Sister Bear with her new pet, KC the cicada





Our Memorial Day weekend at Pohick Bay Regional Park started out a bit on the chilly side but turned into a gloriously sunny, dry vacation. The park itself is located a mere 30 miles south of DC which makes it one of the closest campgrounds to our house. The campground has sites with electric at all sites for a $3/night fee and water at the RV sites. Not having a spigot at our site wasn’t a huge deal since the camping loop is small and the comfort station a very short walk. As for the tent sites, we booked late, which meant we didn’t have our pick. The sites are highly variable and the one that we got, #14, is steeply sloped in two directions which meant we ate at a listing table and slept with heads higher than feet. I wouldn’t choose this one again. Others for tenters to avoid: 17, 21, 35, 36, 39, 58. The whole campground is shady, so while we brought our canopy we didn’t need it.

Sloped campsite

Site 14 lists like a drunken pirate

Each site has both fire pit and stand alone grill. Good thing, too, since we forgot the camp stove! I had, of course, planned every meal down to the condiments and was now faced with making coffee, eggs, biscuits, soup, etc. without the stove I had finally learned to use effectively. But campers are nothing if not resourceful so we rejected the idea of going to the local sporting goods store to buy another stove and decided to try to tough it out with just charcoal and wood. We did just fine. This was fortuitously also the weekend I decided to break out the double pie iron and put it through its paces. So several of the meals were planned to be cooked over the campfire.


Perfect pizza pie


The campground loop surrounds a large central play area. The playground set itself isn’t anything to write home about but the large field draws everyone in for soccer, catch, picnics, and running the dogs. The girls spent a lot of time in the field with their instant new best friends. This is also where the park staff hold demonstrations. One night there was a demo of furs of nocturnal animals that are found in the area, including red fox, skunk, beaver, opossum, squirrel, raccoon. The kids loved feeling the furs and guessing what the animals eat. Later a star gazing group hosted a demo with telescopes. We all marveled at how bright Saturn appears in the scope. We were also able to see it with naked eye as a bright star.


It’s just a short walk to the Bay where there’s an active marina and a boat rental house with canoes, kayaks, and jonboats. We considered renting but were deterred by the three-person maximum on the boats. We satisfied ourselves with a spin on the other good playground set near the boat rental place. Chiara and Clio picked up some huge snail shells by the shore and Clio could not get the stink out of her hands despite liberal application of soap and water. Poor thing. Later I found out from the Mason Neck state park rangers who did the fur demo that they are “mystery snails” because naturalists are not quite sure where they came from.

Perhaps the best feature of the park for the non-boating crowd is the Pirate’s Cove water park. Campers get in for $4 each and there’s reasonably priced and even some healthy food within. Features include a jungle gym with ginormous tipping bucket, two giant water slides, and other pirate miscellany. I could easily see whiling away lots of hours under the many large umbrellas while the kids have fun. Despite the teeth-chattering temperature of the water, which significantly shortened their time in the water, the little bears claimed this was the best part of the trip. We’ll definitely plan on going back when it’s warmer.




Dinner 1: ramen plus tofu and artichokes. Not a great meal but quick for set up night.
Breakfast 2: pancakes (definitely premix the batter, brilliant!), sausages, precut fruit.
Lunch 2: egg salad (premade), PBJ, carrots, grapes, three bean salad
Dinner 2: pizza pies
Breakfast 3: biscuits, eggs, fake bacon sandwiches. Yum! Next time bring some cheese. Made the biscuits in a pot over the coals. Takes about the same time as in oven.
Lunch 3: same as Lunch 2
Dinner 3: tuna steaks, corn on the cob
Breakfast 4: rewarmed leftover biscuits in pie iron (yes!), omelets in pie iron, hash browns

Three-night trip